Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Frankenstein: novel of ideas (p.2)

1/ In chapter 1 of Frankenstein's narrative, he says:
"... My dreams were therefore undisturbed by reality; and I entered with the greatest diligence into the search of the philosopher's stone and the elixir of life. But the latter obtained my most undivided attention: wealth was an inferior object; but what glory would attend the discovery, if I could banish disease from the human frame, and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death!"
What an irony. Most of the deaths in the novel, after Frankenstein's experiment, are violent deaths.
2/ In chapter 3:
"Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs."
The ironic part is that the creature he creates is indeed excellent, capable of love, gentleness, gratitude and remorse- it's only because Frankenstein discards him and fails as a parent (the duty of a parent is not only to give birth, but also to nurture, bring up, and educate the child) that the creature turns out that way, but there is still remorse.
3/ Whilst I understand, and accept, Frankenstein's decision to break his promise and tear apart the 2nd creature before completion, he's still a self-absorbed and irresponsible person. There is little justification for his silence. He may not be able to prevent the deaths of little William and his friend Henry Clerval, but he can prevent those of Justine Moritz and Elizabeth or at least attempt to, and he doesn't. It is comic (for lack of a better word) that Frankenstein's so certain of the creature's action on the wedding night, so inattentive despite his declarations of concern for his family, that he forgets Elizabeth's presence on that day and that he should prepare her for the attack and should be with her to protect her.
4/ As Marilyn Butler points out, there are 2 scientists (if we don't count Henry), but all 3 characters, Walton, Frankenstein and the creature, are explorers, investigators of human beings and/or their environment.
5/ Charles E. Robinson remarks, Frankenstein "sees the worst of himself in Walton's selfish disregard for life" but "sees the best of himself in Clerval's selflessness", or to be precise, sees Clerval "as his better self, a complement whom he needed for fulfilment and wholeness, but a complement he abandoned, together with the loving Elizabeth, when he went to university to pursue knowledge". 
6/ Marilyn Butler interprets the monster as the wild man (as opposed to Frankenstein, the advanced man). Note the primitive lifestyle and the archaic language. The struggle between the 2 individuals, according to her, "represents the attempt of an over-civilized elite to reject its real past and its membership of a wider animal community".
7/  There's a reading of Frankenstein as being gay. I'm not sure of that. That he creates a male creature seems like a neutral, unremarkable act. If he creates a female creature right from the start, one could interpret that he expects something from her, e.g. expects to create a beautiful female who would become his ideal lover.
However, the relationship between him and Elizabeth doesn't look like love. There is not enough affection, Frankenstein seems to think of the life with her as a habit, a promise, an expectation, rather than something he truly wishes for. On my part, I see that rather as proof of his narcissism- he's too self-centred to be capable of love. He has a bad conscience, he feels guilty, he torments himself, but, when it's not possible to bring back the dead, does remorse prompt him to do anything to change the future and protect the living ones? No.

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